by John M. Hotchner
I recently received an email from a reader, with the subject line as above, that reads in part, “Remember when the American Philatelic Society initiated its black dot [sic] program to identify stamps issued primarily for sale to collectors? They seemed to be especially concerned with the United States bicentennial issues. I don’t know what caused the program’s demise. Perhaps there were so many stamps issued primarily for sale to collectors that the black dot became meaningless. It was a well intentioned program that perhaps became overwhelmed by the avalanche of garbage that the postal authorities threw on the market.”
“There is not the slightest doubt that collectors of the issues to, say 1890, look despisingly on the flood of new issues; on the other hand, it is just as true that new collectors cannot possibly hope to obtain at the prices ruling today anything like a complete collection, and perforce must commence on a later date ...As to the Trans-Mississippis, not only is the $1 “Western Cattle in Storm” recognized as being among the most popular and beautiful of U.S. stamps, but the set, with a total face value of $3.80, has a current catalogue value of $4,275, and was reprinted by the U.S. Postal Service as bicolor stamps in souvenir sheet form in 1998. In other words, the concept of protecting collectors from themselves and from predatory postal services was a dismal failure on several levels.
The SSSS faded away, as did the APS Black Blot program, and the FIP initiative to designate stamps that could not be shown in international exhibits. The last APS black blots were printed in the Society’s magazine in 1982. The program was not cancelled, it just faded away. Why? Because there were disagreements as to what rated a black blot, collectors ignored the blots anyway, and many gave the APS a black blot for trying to dictate what ought to be collectible.
Make no mistake, I do not contend that every stamp issued by every country is equally worthy of respect by collectors. What I contend is that one man’s turkey is another man’s eagle. And it is a vain effort to dictate to people what they should collect. No matter that the effort may spring from pure motives, it is a form of attempted censorship, and that is rightly rejected in the marketplace.
I have no problem with information being provided that informs collectors who want to know, non-judgmentally, that such and such new issue is or is not a good investment based on specific reasoning taking into account such things as popularity of the country of issue, numbers issued compared to in-country demand and use, the popularity of the subject portrayed in the philatelic community, the attractiveness of the stamps, and their cost. But I don’t want to hear recommendations based upon the speaker’s prejudices. Nor do I want to be told that I should not collect something that I find attractive because someone else thinks it is a rip-off.
As I have said many times in this space, one of the glories of this hobby is that we get to shape our collections according to our own lights. Those among us who adopt the role of philatelic snob do the hobby no favor as they push collectors away from it. Nor is it our role as collectors to take up the sword and shield and try and force postal administrations to straighten up and fly right. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, and tell the world why if you must. But don’t tell me I can’t or shouldn’t. That is my call alone, and I am pleased to tell you that I have a certain amount of what others call trash in my collections, and it adds to my enjoyment of the hobby or it wouldn’t be there.
Should you wish to comment on this editorial, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting "VSC" in the subject line, at firstname.lastname@example.org